A five year old child, Kwame Owusu, loses both parents through road traffic crash as result of recklessness behaviour of a commercial driver who was over speeding on a terrible road in Ghana. The child, who is dependent on both parents faces lots of emotional and physical development challenges. Unable to properly receive parental guidance and love, ends up in the wrong side of the society.
Kwame becomes rigid as society and other family members are unable to provide the basic requirements his biological parents would have offered him. Frustrations lead him to join the wrong side of the society, becoming a regular street boy, engaging in various hazardous trade such as selling of water in a fast moving vehicular traffic on the busy streets of Accra. Kwame forgoes most schooling days as a result of poverty.
Eventually, he ends up becoming an armed robber but the police service does it job right by arresting him. Kwame Owusu had a bright beginning when his parents were alive. But for the menace which is created by the transport system in Ghana and around the world, such a promising child ends up in a correctional facility and would return to the society without any sort of opportunities to tap into. The primary cause of this could have been avoided only if road safety interventions were enforced.
Many people in the active labour force globally perish through road traffic crash on daily basis. The figures of people dying and sustaining various high degree of injuries is staggering. Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that road traffic injuries claim more than 1.2 million lives each year posing a huge impact on health and development. It is the number one cause of death among people aged 15-29 years.
It is so sad to know that people lose their family members, most often, the bread winners of the family through road traffic crash on regularly basis. Comparing the death toll of road traffic crash to malaria, HIV/AIDS combined, road traffic crash far exceeds that, however, the resources and funding it receives is not encouraging. Interestingly, governments around the world knows the right kind of interventions that works, but the implementation is eluding the progress in combating this problem.
“Road traffic crash every year kills two million people and this is man-made disaster. This is something we have invented, this is the price we decided to pay for our transportation system,” says Dr Etienne Krug, the Director of the WHO Department for the Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention in an exclusive interview during the Safety 2016
World Conference-12th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, held in Tampere, Finland, from September 18-21, 2016.
Dr Krug, who is very passionate about road traffic crashes given it magnitude of death toll on global population states that the number one killer of young people is road traffic crashes, and emphasises, “it is not some mysterious virus or bug that we don’t know what to do about it.”
There are many research findings and best practices at global, regional levels which points to the interventions or solutions to road traffic crash. Some are very simple life saving messages which once adhered to can solve the problem.
“We need good laws on speeding, drinking and driving, motor cycle helmet wearing and seat belt wearing and we need to enforce them. We also need to work on quality of our roads and vehicles. It is a question of political will and stop this, taking the decisions to put measures in places to stop this,” Dr Krug notes.
There are many efforts to tackle road traffic crash in Africa and it is a good starting point because the sustainable development goals have called for a 50% reduction in the number of deaths.
“There are countries like Ethiopia or Ghana looking at their trauma care system for improvement. Mozambique has looked at their data and legislation and worked on a plan of action. South Africa is making improvements also, because the toll is high there too.
“So there are many countries where efforts are taking place unfortunately those efforts are good but not enough to tackle the issues at the level we will like to see it so we need to scale up,” Dr Krug emphasises.
According to Dr Krug, the African delegates are very important in the conference because the highest rates of injury are found in Africa.
“I hope all of them will have opportunities to learn and take home some good ideas of what others have done and what could be done in implementing that in various countries on the continent.
There are a lot of lessons that Ghana can learn from Ethiopia and many of the other countries and vice versa in road safety management,” he states.
Injuries around the world accounts for more than five million death annually, representing 9% of global deaths, data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows. These are caused by violence, road traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and poisoning, among others.
Road traffic crash is the leading cause of injury-related deaths, accounting for 24% while 16% from suicide and 14% from falls complete the top three leading cause of injury related deaths.
Stephen Stacey, the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) Regional Director for Africa, and Middle East, says road traffic crashes is hidden problem, explaining that, people think that the major problems are diseases such as malaria, etc, they are serious problems of course, but, a hidden problem which greater than many of them combined is road traffic crashes, causing serious impact on population in African countries
“Sadly, Africa is the continent where the record is worse and in many countries the number of people being killed increases and it is time politicians and civil society do something about it. We have the solutions and now it’s time to implement them,” Stacey, whose organisation runs a road safety programme in Ghana, adds.
Dr Sally-Ann Ohene, Disease Prevention and Control Office at WHO Country Office for Ghana states that road traffic death in Ghana has been at horizontal level over the years, indicating that road traffic death in the country has been increasing.
Statistics from Ghana’s National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) reveals a staggering figure of 508 persons died in motor accidents involving 4,569 vehicles in first quarter of 2016 representing 28 percent upsurge in pedestrian and passengers crushed to death during the same period last year. The number of persons injured also rose by 10 percent within the first three months of 2016 registering absolute figures of 2,442 in 2015 and 2,687 this year. Data from the NRSC also shows that an average of seven motorbike gets involved in accident daily, while one motorbike gets involved in a road accident every three and half hours in Ghana.
“We have the basic laws but enforcement is a problem. For example driving in town demands a certain speed for drivers but no one checks them, nobody checks whether drivers stops at pedestrian or zebra crossing. There are a number of factors accounting for this trend. One of it is education–people do not know the speed limit for town driving, it is not being published enough. We have a lot to do as far as education is concerned.
“We have to step up our law enforcement. It is not a matter of resources, sometimes a lot of these things do not need a lot of resources but being accountable and enforcing the law and ensuring that people obey it. And once people flout the law, they must be held accountable, if it is prosecution, it must be done without favours and bribery,” Dr Ohene emphasises.
Ms Ayikai Poswayo, Programme Director at AMEND, a nongovernmental organization in sub-Saharan Africa which develops, implements, and evaluates evidence-based interventions to reduce the incidence of road traffic injury among the most vulnerable road users, says there are enough capacity, tools and knowledge required to prevent road traffic crash.
Ms Poswayo, an engineer professional, states: “from an engineering point of view we know the tools and have the tools we need to try and prevent road crash. In terms of engineering aspect, we can engineer our road network to have a safe system, so that if there is a mistake by a driver that mistake can be compensated for within that safe system within the car such as seat belt, air bags, etc. The seat belt and all of that should come into play in the worst case scenario when a crash has happened and those are used as measures to protect the individuals.”
“The road should be designed according to the safe speed for which a driver should be driving at. So if you have a road going through an area in a 30 kmph zone, the road should be designed such that the vehicle is forced to travel at 30 kmph whether by speed humps, or other traffic calming measures like safe bends in the road, which will cause the driver to slow down.
“We should be thinking about the fact that roads should not only be built for vehicles. A lot of engineering training is designed that engineers build roads for vehicles forgetting that actually there are more pedestrians than there are people in vehicles in most of our cities and towns,” notes Ms Poswayo.
She indicates that roads with very high speed, there is the need to segregate pedestrians and vehicles by overpass bridge and zebra crossing in communities.
“In the case where something goes wrong, a car that is travelling too fast and skips off the road, then we need to have in place crash barriers but crash barriers which are forgiven to absorb the energy away from the driver. It should not be rigid crash barrier to cause the driver to absorb a lot of the energy,” she adds.
Dr Olive Kobusingye, Research Fellow and Principle Investigator at School of Public Health’s Trauma, Injuries and Disabilities Project at Makerere University, Uganda, also emphasises that road infrastructure needs to take a closer look at communities to find out the number of people using vehicles and pedestrians and plan the infrastructure based on the needs of the population.
Kelly Larson, Programme Director, Bloomberg Philanthropies says having high level political will is essential to addressing road traffic issues in any city or country.
Under the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, Bloomberg Philanthropies, a non-profit making organization based in the United State of America, is working with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) to strengthen road safety legislation and to implement proven road safety interventions.
“I have been to Accra and saw a lot of pedestrians and we need to make sure that the streets are redesigned so that they are safer for pedestrians to walk and to cross,” she notes.
Table Credit: Data from WHO.
By Samuel Hinneh, Courtesy: ICFJ-WHO Safety 2016 Reporting Fellowship Program